The Boston Celtics must overcome NBA powers if they are to finish the season at the basketball summit.
The Celtics begin the 2020-21 NBA season at No. 6 and No. 8 on ESPN’s and NBA.com’s NBA power rankings, respectively. These positions reflect the widely held belief that Boston is among the best teams in the Eastern Conference but isn’t a legitimate NBA Finals contender.
The Celtics ranked seventh in the NBA power rankings ESPN published following the 2020 NBA Finals. The Worldwide Leader then dropped Boston to No. 7 earlier this month in the power rankings it published at the start of training camp.
ESPN’s Tim Bontemps now ranks the Celtics sixth and he believes their position in the pecking order likely will depend on whether Kemba Walker recovers fully from his lingering knee injury.
“Now, though, Walker is going on almost an entire calendar year’s worth of knee problems — which will keep him sidelined until 2021, and potentially several weeks into it before he’s fully ramped up and ready to go,” Bontemps wrote Tuesday. “Still, Boston will be just fine with that if Walker’s recovery period after a stem cell injection and a 12-week strengthening program for his left knee will have him ready to go for the playoffs. With a healthy Walker, Boston has a chance to repeat its success from last season. With an injured Walker, Boston has a millstone contract on its books — and a far lower ceiling than it would like.”
Bontemps also highlighted the importance of Jaylen Brown as the Celtics’ best candidate to enjoy a breakout season. As he ranked the Celtics No. 8, NBA.com’s John Schuhmann followed suit in focusing on Brown and he also recognizes the immediate need for Boston’s role players to step up, too.
“Over his first four years in the league, Jaylen Brown has been everything (defender, finisher, shooter off the catch) but a real playmaker,” Schumann wrote Tuesday. “… But with Gordon Hayward gone and Kemba Walker out to start the season, there?s a need for Brown to be more of a creator.
“… With Walker out, the Celtics? inexperienced depth will get thrown straight into the fire as they begin the season with four games against East playoff teams. Javonte Green (who played six playoff minutes last season) started the two preseason games and rookie Payton Pritchard got some run. But the best guess for the fifth guy on the floor down the stretch of a close game (until Walker returns) could be Grant Williams.”
The Celtics will begin their 72-game regular season slate Tuesday night at TD Garden when they host the Milwaukee Bucks, who are No. 2 in both ESPN’s and NBA.com’s NBA power rankings.